Archaic altar in area west of Building D. C. Mauzy.Archaic altar in area west of Building D. C. Mauzy. 

The sanctuary of Poseidon is a large temenos (cult place) which has yielded material remains of long-lived and multi-faceted cult activity from possibly prehistoric to late antique date. It exhibits a variety of ritual activity the nature and characteristics of which underwent changes during the long life-span of the sanctuary. We may find that there were various aspects and differing forms of cults for the primary god Poseidon, for other gods, deities and possibly also for heroes and respected dead persons. These activities were located within the temenos: outside the temple, in small closed rooms of different, in some cases architecturally unconventional buildings, by the entrance of the sanctuary, in front of statues of wealthy dedicators, and around altars. Naturally, we also find traces of purely secular activities which took place within the large sanctuary, and their relation to ritual life provides us with a possibility to scrutinise the ways in which we generally conceptualise ancient Greek religion.

Greek religion and cult has traditionally been divided into two main spheres, official realm of state (polis) cultic activity with monumental aspects of cult, and private religious activity which is thought to have taken place in domestic contexts or temporary, rural and non-monumental settings. Echoing this, Greek cults have often been regarded as either panhellenic cults of mainly Olympian deities or regional and/or local ones. Local or regional cults have been seen as having been mostly directed towards worship of, for example, ancestors, local (eponymic) heroes or minor deities of local origin. The excavations at the sanctuary on Kalaureia have so far unearthed cultic activity which shows overlapping and criss-crossing characteristics of all these aspects of ancient Greek religion. In fact, at the Kalaureian sanctuary we can observe the co-existence of official religion in the form of state dedications and monumental temple building with more informal, unconventional ritual activity in the form of occasional votive dedications, feasting on exceptional food and drink as a one-time occurrence, and the sacrificing of animals or domestic objects to deities or possibly ancestors about whose identity we can only make educated guesses.

One particular characteristic of religious practice at the Kalaureian sanctuary is its possible function as a place of asylum. The asylia-function, the protection the sanctuary could offer to those in need, meant that people could take refuge at Kalaureia and express their gratitude to gods and deities there. Therefore they left us traces not only of their ritual behaviour in the sanctuary but their activities also provide us with an opportunity to examine how unregulated types of ritual activity became mingled with the official, formalised aspects of cult. This is because asylia and the so-called hiketeia, a type of pilgrimage to a place of asylum, could have taken forms of essentially private type of religious expression, like ritual dining or occasional giving of votive offerings. We should not forget, however, that everything that went on in the sanctuary was not a ritual or cult. On the basis of archaeological remains it is, in many cases, very difficult to determine the border-line between sacral and profane, but nevertheless our investigation will reveal to us mechanisms of how the scholarly community has approached this matter, how ancient cult has been defined and, importantly, how we should evaluate and elaborate our premises for defining ancient Greek cult through the material that Kalaureia produces. 

Method of study

In the study of ancient Greek religion there has been a tendency and inclination to ‘discover’ or create a uniform ‘narrative’ of the religious nature of a studied cult place or sanctuary. Religious activity over time, however, necessarily changed a lot, became scattered into differing activities, and the bonding links between them may became lost. What remains to us are components of religious activity, remains of rituals which we may discover in excavations. When studying the religious life of a sanctuary like Kalaureia drawing these components together can provide us with a composite view, which reflects how the scholarly community approaches religion. Our task is to discover these components. Thus, in looking at religious life and cult of Kalaureia we are moving between different layers, from the excavated material, to the initial interpretation of it, and then to the succeeding meta-interpretative phase which reflects as much, if not more, our ideas about religion as those of ancient people.